There was much cheer last week when Life OK took the #3 slot amongst Hindi GECs in the weekly TAM ratings. But we held back and said that we should wait for another week before interviewing Ajit Thakur, Star India General Manager and Business Head of the channel. The weekly numbers that came out yesterday saw Life OK ahead yet again. MxMIndia spoke with Mr Thakur, hours after it was known that Life OK was the #3 Hindi GEC for the second consecutive week as per TAM numbers.
01.When we met you in December you said Life OK would be No 1 channel in the next 18 months and exact 6 months since then, Life is more than OK. What has worked for the channel for it to be the no 3?
Firstly, we have not consciously chased rankings. When I said we want to be the No 1 GEC, we wanted to be No 1, and everything else in the middle didn’t matter. No 1 both in terms of perception and market share. What we had gone about doing in the past six months was to up the game. For instance, one of the things we focussed on was to bring in some scale on the channel. In January we started with Life OK Screen Awards and then we did a couple of more events, the recent being Life OK Now Awards which are a television and film monthly awards. Second, we are continuing to work on our disruption agenda. When we last met, we had just launched Tumhari Paakhi and Hatim, both come from very different schools of thought, one is a fantasy tale, targeting kids, while Tumhari Paakhi is an adaptation of a Sarat Chandra novel. Yes we have some originals, there are some ever-lasting characters, we picked those characters and turned them into now what is one of the better shows on TV. It is a drama but not a saas bahu show. In fact as we speak, we are shooting in Singapore….
02. What would you attribute the current rise to, especially in the last two weeks? Savdhaan India turning into an hour?
There are about 4-5 shows have contributed to it, which is a good thing, right? It is not a one-show wonder. Savdhaan India’s extended hours has worked for sure, Tumhari Paakhi has grown, another shows called Ek Boond Ishq at 8.30 pm has grown, and we have also had Shapath and the Life OK Now awards on weekends. But what worked well for us and not just individual shows was that while everyone was waiting to do their highpoints in the week post-IPL, we went and tried everything in the last week of IPL because I believe there is enough scope for GECs despite cricket. The last week ratings that came in were of the IPL finale week. Everyone fell and postponed their high points while we went and did all of them in that week!
So if you don’t want to watch cricket, we are the channel which is giving you enough and more! I think this is what worked for us first and then the momentum continued. Going forward, while today we are ahead and tomorrow somebody else could be ahead of us, the important thing is if you look at the past 18 months, the channel that has steadily grown and recruited viewers and continued to do that by not showing same kind of content is Life OK. Everything else is going up and down, but we have continuously and steadily grown.
03. You still don’t have too much have on the reality front. You have tried it in the past on Life OK but nothing has turned out to be as big as what some of the others have.
Yes, partly conscious, partly not conscious. We did try a couple of things like Bachelorette India and Sacch Ka Saamna at launch but both didn’t work as well as we would have liked them to. But at the same time we have not done the tried and tested, singing and dancing which everybody has and that is the conscious past of Life OK’s DNA that we won’t do the regular stuff. I am comfortable in saying that we are growing, we are young, we are learning from our mistakes.
03a. Any format that you would like to do or would like to licence in the near future?
No International formats, we don’t find anything interesting. This festival season we will be doing our first big talent reality show. Though it is very early to talk about it, what I can tell you is that it will be a creation of genre and we are going to get a mega star on board and that the show will be shot out of India.
04. You have got to No 3, the key thing now is to maintain the lead. How do you plan to ensure that?
According to me, there are three highlights of where we are today. First and foremost is that being the younger No 3, we will try harder to retain the humility we have shown. We will continue to be resilient and stay focussed. Second, we will keep breaking rules, that’s our DNA. Everybody does singing-and-dancing, we will do something else, everybody does saas bahu, we will do something else, and we will try and change the rules of content and marketing. The third and one of the most important things we learnt when we started out was that many of the established producers and writers were engaged with the top channels. We said we will build our own talent pool. In the past two-and-a-half years, we have worked with loads of new people. Half my heads of department have never done TV before, one person has come from publishing, another from research and marketing. We will continue engaging with new people and work with new producers, get new people in and give them a chance. But we also have some of the big producers coming in. Our next big shows is by Ekta Kapoor, the no 1 talent in Television. We have 3-4 from other big producers, but at the same time we will continue working with new talent.
04a. Does that mean that you will now be spending more on production, up from the relatively low spends you’ve done so far?
Our spends were moderate, not low. But remember, I am just talking about fiction, we are not going to spend a lot on non-fiction. I think the return on investment on non-fiction is very questionable. Even the best products are not making money.
05. Back to your earlier statement of wanting to be No 1 by June 2015. You are #3 already, but you are just 12 months away from your target?
The top slots keep yo-yoing but the one to beat is Star Plus. It has set high benchmarks, so, yes, we would like to set our eyes on it. But we still have a lot of our own problems to fix and have some learnings. Once we figure things out in the next six months, we will take a shot at it. Right now, I am not looking at Star Plus.